The dawn of the Internet era. The “dot com bubble”. Everyone was entranced by the misconception that if they built it, success and riches would ensue. It was surreal, the entire world was filled with excitement, a reinvigorated sense of energy almost as if a whole new world was discovered, full of innumerable opportunities and dreams to be fulfilled. Was it all a fallacy? No! Then what went wrong? The same thing that goes wrong over and over again in so many technology projects. The failure to plan. While many people would argue that it was more complex than simply an omission of planning and the argument would quickly spiral into a complex in-depth discussion that covers topics ranging from business to finance to sustainability, in the end every time I’ve had this debate I’ve come out with the glorious prize of the opposing party slowly lowering their head and mumbling “You’re right”. This is not a reflection of my argumentative skills, but merely my ability to showcase the evidence and help them to understand where it all did in fact go wrong. The failure to plan happened at every stage – planning, investment, sustainability assessment, cashflow analysis, accountability profiles and the list goes on. It’s scary to realize how many individuals had their hands in the pot, but nobody spoke up… we were all simply spellbound.
Where am I going with this? Why am I talking about old news? What am I doing talking about the obvious? Why am I wasting your time? Well quite simply, I’m not. The truth of the matter is that too many business owners are spellbound once again. This time it’s not by the lure of success and riches but rather it’s their own manifestation of a belief of a pace required to meet all of their responsibilities. What I’m talking about is their inability, or rather, unwillingness to step back and take the time to plan. As a result of the sense of urgency that resonates within them, the majority of time I’ve witnessed countless business owners make decisions without any planning whatsoever and consequently blame the delegates around them that they’ve asked to do the job for any resulting challenges.
There are multiple points whereby a project can fail due to insufficient planning before the project has even been awarded. If your first steps don’t sound like this when you approach your next technology project, you’re probably setting it up for failure (don’t worry, you’re not the first… 7 out of 10 technology projects fail before the project has even started!)
- Requirements Gathering
As the customer, it is your responsibility to document the requirements of the project. Ensure that you take the time to assess and document all of your requirements. Make sure that you plan them out in detail. Start by a few simple questions, it’ll get the ball rolling:
Who will use the site? (be specific about demographic groups, users with different needs, etc.)
What does each type of user need to accomplish on the website? (be specific)
Why are each of these activity(ies) necessary?
When do they need to perform these activity(ies)?
How can I measure the success of the website?
Answering these questions will serve as the basis for your project requirements.
- Assess, Clarify and Propose
The supplier will assess the requirements that you’ve provided. They will typically ask questions and document answers to fill in any gaps within your requirements. Thereafter they will prepare a proposal for your review and consideration.
- Proposal Review
Review all supplier-provided proposal(s) in detail. Ensure that each one has captured all of your requirements (or at the very least addressed them all, realizing that some may be technically infeasible) and ensure that they’ve taken the time to plan a solution that will successfully fulfill all of your requirements. After reading the proposal(s), you’ll likely be able to narrow down your choice to the top couple of proposals and then you can move onto preparing questions that you intend to ask the suppliers in order to help you select the company you wish to hire.Quick Tip: Discard any proposals that do not address all of your requirements. There is simply no way for you to ensure that a proposal with insufficient details will meet all of your needs and the supplier is only under obligation to provide the deliverables explicitly outlined in the contract.
- Award Contract
If you have a clear winner, award the contract and prepare (or obtain from the supplier) a written contract based upon agreed proposal. Double check the contract terms, review with a lawyer and then proceed once you’re happy.
This should be considered the bare minimum for any project that you ever undertake. I know… I know… I can hear you now “But I just don’t have the time!” Guess what? Take the time now, or inevitably, you’ll be forced to make the time later to deal with the repercussions of not having planned prior. In addition to all of that unaccounted for time, you’ll have to address shortcomings, cost overruns and a whole bunch of other intangible challenges that accompany the result of a project without a plan.
I strongly believe a picture is worth a thousand words, so take a quick look at this. The top line showcases a project that started with planning, the above steps were followed and the resulting success is obvious. The bottom project, however, unfortunately skipped the critical planning stages. As a result you can see the direction of the project being changed over and over again. While your supplier will be able to adapt to these changes, this will result in wasted time and additional costs due to change requests that are made outside the scope of your agreement. Your lack of planning will cost you dearly, in both time and money. How do I make this clear? 10 hours of planning can save 100 hours of work, the larger the project the more significant the impact. These costs are significant!
While choosing a supplier that has extensive experience in planning can drastically increase your odds of success, it’s important to note that if you are unsuccessful in determining and communicating all of your requirements, your supplier will have a partial portrait of your goals and while they may be able to fill in some of the blanks, the odds that they will fill in all of them with respect to your business requirements is very low. It would be nearly impossible for a construction company to build your dream house without having you first inform them of your requirements, such as how many bedrooms and bathrooms you want, wouldn’t it?
“Your requirements must be clear and concise. It really is that simple!”
If you’re a gambler, reserve those activities for the casinos, sports bets and in-house poker games where your odds of winning are low but still much higher than gambling with your business. Take the time to slow down and plan your requirements. Leverage that creative genius within you; after all it’s that exact asset that got your business where it is today. Do not let the pace of today’s hectic society thwart you from investing this very important time into your business.
Remember, the old adage still applies here: if you fail to plan then you plan to fail.